Attribution Isn’t a Marketing Problem

I’ve had a lot of interesting conversations with CEOs and VCs around the nation these past few weeks. I’ve, luckily, had the chance to get to know companies of all sizes and shapes. I’ve talked to leaders of companies that are B2B, B2C, e-commerce, SaaS, marketplace, so on and so forth. It’s been fascinating to hear what keeps them up at night and, most relevant for our conversations — what do they need from a marketing executive?

While you would imagine that the conversations would be quite unique, especially since I’ve talked to companies ranging from idea stage to post-IPO, but surprisingly a few things seem most important – no matter your stage, size, or product. One of them, perhaps not as surprisingly, is attribution. I must have been asked over two dozen times in the last 30 days – what’s my philosophy on attribution?

You can actually sense the frustration in their voice as they ask. It’s as though they’ve been burned – likely by a marketer who promised they were tracking everything well and spending accordingly. Or perhaps by an agency that created dependency through attribution models that were “just hard to explain.” Ugh. Shoot me.

Whatever happened – the situations, as I dig in, are eerily similar – they haven’t invested much into attribution infrastructure, they aren’t sure where to start, they are pretty sure they are misspending, and they need a marketing leader to come in and fix it.

But here is the real deal – it’s not a marketing problem. It’s a company problem.

I can sit down and audit everything from here to Tuesday. I could introduce the leadership team to our options from first touch, to last touch, to linear, to time decay, to U-shaped, to custom. I could hold brown bag learning sessions on our free options and bring in paid vendors to pitch us on their latest feature releases. I could do allll of that…and you might feel better.

But if the entire company doesn’t understand attribution, and if the top leadership isn’t invested in building touchpoints into every customer system – it still won’t work. We’ll still lose in market. We’ll still overspend. It’s still a hot mess, and no one is going to be better for it.

Almost all of my conversations this past month have quickly turned around to me asking the CTOs and VP of Engineering – how do you work with a marketing leader and the marketing team to set us up for success? Then I call in the CFO and VP of Finance – how do you guys work with the marketing leader and the marketing team to set us up for success? What are our cross-team rhythms? How are “we” (NOTE THE WORD WE!) going to build the best attribution infrastructure for our business?

Attribution isn’t just about models or the latest approaches to funnel mapping. Attribution is about to being able to assign the right value or credit to each marketing touchpoint. It’s no bigger than that. Let’s not get caught up fighting paper tigers on this one.

The real barrier to doing it well comes in this assumption that the CMO can do it well alone and in a silo. It takes development resources, financial modeling collaboration, and product leadership support. It takes a company-wide familiarity with all the touchpoints available to us and how/when to use them. This is what I call “getting intimate with your customer’s experience.” If my product team builds a new on-site acquisition and onboarding flow, with little consideration to how that might affect my existing attribution tracking, and all of a sudden our LTVs drop like whoa, it could go unnoticed for a year…unless we are doing this together. 

Attribution is not a marketing problem, it’s a company problem.

The truth of the matter is, the best conversations I’ve had this past month have ended with me and technical leaders geeking out over all the inputs and APIs we can connect to get full funnel views (literally I actually high-fived a complete stranger after ten minutes of white-boarding the other day….oh life moments). After all, as a marketing leader, if you aren’t grooving with your technical peers like that, you’ve got bigger problems than attribution.


1 Comment
  • Jay Ratkowski

    On point.

    One thing that has always been an issue, and can seriously contribute to this, is marketing vs sales. Companies tend to be marketing driven or sales driven (or finance driven, tech driven, etc…) and it’s never both. Sales driven companies are usually older, but either way, they give revenue credit to the relationship (literally too, via commission). I usually find those companies are the most reluctant to even consider everything involved in really using attribution. Marketing may get credit for some sales, but if they bring in a lead that a sales person closes and grows, good luck crediting that lead to the right channel(s).

    Sometimes you’re out of luck there. But other times it’s a matter of going even bigger picture and not just getting all sides involved in attribution, but to re-examine what marketing really does and how it connects to the success or failure of each team.